Monday, November 9

South Asian Education and Development: Rooted in Histories

From missing internet for a dreadful two whole weeks (half sarcasm noted), I missed some news and good articles. Thanks to Neelofer, she sent me Nicholas Kristof’s article, “More Schools, Not Troops.”

Now, I debate with myself over Nicholas Kristof and the sincerity and authenticity of this work. This article was one of disappointment.

I can agree with Kristof’s overall point: a message to the US government to stop bombing countries and start to develop them by providing schools. This is one of the best ways to bring recurring, deep change. He brought up Greg Mortenson, a humanitarian I have mentioned before who has pioneered building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan with his bare hands (not an expression, actually true.) Kristof noted that these schools are secular and are not being threatened and are welcomed by the community. Rich Islamic extremists are building schools that teach solely radical Islam, which end up being the only outlet for poor families to give their children an education. If extremists are investing in the youth to spread a particular message, can’t we start to invest in schools to spread a more secular message?

Then Kristof compared Pakistan with Bangladesh. First off, not a good idea. The two nations may have been one 50 years back but that in no means allows for a comparison: the Pakistan of 1947-1971 was forced by the British, nations separated by their enemy, India, speaking separate languages with differing cultures and economies. These differences lead to the Liberation War making Bangladesh it's own country. Pakistan is to Bangladesh as the US is to Nicaragua. To this day I don’t know how India survives with it’s own diversity.

Kristof makes the comparison that Bangladesh focused on education since becoming it’s own nation in a way that Pakistan never did. But Bangladesh received more help than Pakistan. Bangladesh was the poster-child of a desperate nation so much so that George Harrison along with Ravi Shankar held a concert in New York in 1971 to send money through UNICEF. No one did that for Pakistan. Also, Bangladesh has become the ‘development capital of the world’—education not the only focus but providing medical, social and environmental services. Education will do nothing if the current surrounding society isn’t improved. Kristof then claimed that, “Bangladesh now has more girls in high school than boys.”

At first I wondered how accurate of a statistic this is (it was not referenced). Looking at UNICEF, it seems that Bangladesh is a forerunner in achieving equality of gender enrollment in schools. Enrollment is one thing; attendance and continuing education are another--25% of Bangladeshi girls don't actually finish their primary school education according to UNESCO 2007. Kristof then says that “those Bangladeshi women joined the labor force, laying the foundation for a garment industry…” Educated women do not go into the garment industry. This industry is one of mostly unskilled labor for the most part so much so that children can work there.

The next day, I mentioned the article to an amazing friend; his father is Burmese, and his mother Persian, they met in Chittagong, Bangladesh then moved to New Jersey. He speaks English, Bangla, Urdu and local Chittagong language. He agreed, and shared some of his insight by mentioning how Bangladesh is very homogeneous: everyone speaks the same language (though dialects) and it is a very small country where it is easy to travel (via river or over the land which is mostly flat). Also add into the fact that Bangladesh fought for their country: an instant camaraderie existed as all Bangladeshis fought behind Bangabadhu for their language and culture. It was their choice and their families and neighbors as one.

Pakistan, even Afghanistan, are quite heterogeneous where communication between tribes is difficult over endless hills, too much desert and a myriad of languages. Perhaps now Afghanistan and Pakistan are uniting in their own countries—but at the rate we’re going it’s going to be in hatred against us.

While I support Kristof’s, I urge him not to compare too much two different societies. Of course, use one as an example but take into account the different histories that lead to the differences that exist today.

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